Protect Media Freedom in Qatar

Target: Qatari Shura Council

Goal: Revise draft media law that violates Qatari freedom of speech and expression

The Shura Council, the legislative body of the Arab nation of Qatar, approved a draft media law recently that contradicts the country’s previous claims to freedom of media and expression. The law is worded in such a way as to allow harsh penalties for those found criticizing Qatari or neighboring governments.

International law demands that citizens be allowed to speak out against their government officials, and the Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which Qatar is a party, promises to respect freedom of expression. Remind the Shura Council of these undeniable rights and Qatar’s international commitments.

This new draft media law is a major setback in a country that has previously been a pioneer for media freedom across the region. Journalists will now have to self-censor to avoid the high financial penalties that can result from publishing news that might, in the vague words of the law, “throw relations between the state and the Arab and friendly states into confusion” or “abuse the regime or offend the ruling family or cause serious harm to the national or higher interests of the state.” In addition to fines, individuals can face up to five years in prison for any negative sentiments uttered against the emir.

In 2008, Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani created the Doha Center for Media Freedom in an effort to promote freedom for the press and ensure reliable journalism in both Qatar and the region as a whole. In addition, Sheikh Hamad’s news network, Al Jazeera, has served as a vital point of contact in sharing with the world news of the many uprisings throughout the Middle East beginning in December 2010.

Clearly, the new law is step backwards. Not only will the new regulations bottleneck news and information spreading out of the region to the international community, it will also severely cripple Qatari citizens’ voice in public life. Facing such steep penalties, it is likely that fewer individuals will be willing to vocalize concerns that may cast the government in a negative light.

Call upon the Shura Council to revoke their previous ruling and revise this new law.


Dear members of the Shura Council,

The new draft media law, recently passed in June, directly infringes upon Qatari citizens’ freedom of expression. By imposing steep financial penalties and even possible time in prison for speaking out against the government, the voices of the people have essentially been silenced. Furthermore, the vague wording of the new law will allow for dubious interpretation and potential violations of rights.

Qatar has always been an example of free speech in a region that has all too often silenced opposition. If not for Qatari news networks, much of the information regarding the uprisings throughout the Middle East may have eluded the international community. It is a shame that Qatar is taking such a drastic step backwards.

Governments must allow the people to speak their minds. This ensures government accountability and allows officials to recognize important issues that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. The new draft media law will only serve as an obstacle in pursuing these important goals.

Please review and revise the draft media law and ensure the free speech your country has vowed to protect.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: jemasmith via Flickr

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